Electoral reforms needed more than ever

It is eleven months since the party negotiators in the Inclusive Government agreed on the Roadmap to Elections stipulating both the new constitution and reforms as a prerequisite to the elections and there has been no serious progress tackling reforms.   The constitution-making process is incomplete; there has been no reform of media laws and other repressive laws like AIPPA and POSA which continue to curtail people's freedoms.   ZANU-PF has maintained its control of public media.   The airwaves have not been opened.  Little political reform has taken place - de facto power and control of national resources is still with the former ruling party, which together with its control of the security forces, gives it an edge when it comes to elections.   But recently ZANU-PF has been taking a diametrically opposed standpoint [in the President's speeches, reports of politburo and central committee meetings and statements by ZANU-PF Ministers, though not in Parliament], insisting on elections in 2012, with or without a new constitution and reforms. The far reaching electoral reforms needed to level the playing field for the election contest are still awaited.

Zimbabwe has been named as one of Africa's "dangerous conflict zones € where election-related disputes are stalling development. Speaking during a labour and environmental meeting at the sidelines of the United Nations World Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro recently, global trade union leaders blamed African leaders, including President Mugabe, for hampering development. Already classified as a Failed State, the country has become a threat to the stability of the southern African region.

The SADC Election Observer Mission's official report of 2008 concluded that:

"The process leading up to the presidential run-off elections held on 27 June 2008 did not conform to SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. However, the Election Day was peaceful. Based on the above-mentioned observations, the Mission is of the view that the prevailing environment impinged on the credibility of the electoral process. The elections did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe. €

The only possible interpretation of this statement is that Robert Mugabe's presidency is illegitimate. SADC, led by South Africa under president Thabo Mbeki, nevertheless declared the election 'free and fair', then went ahead and allowed Robert Mugabe to retain all the vital controls of power in the subsequent 'power-sharing' General Political Agreement (GPA). The outcomes have proved to be entirely unsatisfactory.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, ending her five-day visit arranged by the Government of Zimbabwe, stressed the need for reforms before the next elections:

"Concern is rising both inside and outside the country that, unless the parties agree quickly on some key major reforms €¦the next election which is due sometime in the coming year could turn into a repeat of the 2008 elections which resulted in rampant politically motivated human rights abuses, including killings, torture, rapes, beatings, arbitrary detention, displacements and other violations. € €¦ "I believe that it is essential that a satisfactory new Constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights is in place soon, so that the referendum to confirm it and all the electoral reforms necessary for a peaceful, free and fair election can be carried out before people go to the polls. €

Elections in Zimbabwe have, since 1980, been held politically toxic conditions. If the will of the people is to be respected, their choice of government has to be protected from the very real threat of militarized violence. There has been no meaningful reform of Zimbabwe's Electoral Act, the Electoral Commission or the Voters' Roll since they were last used in 2008.

The only acceptable means of achieving this transition is for the African region to refuse another rigged election while enabling a solution by holding of free and fair elections under a neutral and independent electoral administration. The process must be protected by the SADC Electoral Protocol where the implications of non-compliance are clearly stipulated. This provides the mandate to ensure the peaceful transfer of power through a legitimately elected government freely chosen by the citizens of Zimbabwe.

Chapter 6 of the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Government requires states to institutionalise civilian control of the military and to punish unconstitutional overthrow of democratically elected governments. The only environment in which control of the military could be transferred is with the free and credible election of a legitimate democratic government.

In order to implement free and legitimate elections in Zimbabwe today, there are four basic requirements:

1)      Electoral reforms
2)      Internationally supervised election process
3)      The deterrent of the implications of non-compliance with the SADC Electoral Protocol
4)      The official endorsement and support of SADC, the AU and UN.

A free and credible election in Zimbabwe must be implemented by any means necessary, for without this, no future government or president can be considered legitimate in the eyes of Zimbabwean citizens, the region and the world.

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